Story last updated at 9:11 PM on Thursday, April 24, 2008

ADF&G takes another shot at predators

By Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

The ongoing controversy over the state's predator control program and aerial wolf and bear shooting spilled into Homer last Thursday after a presentation by Board of Game member Ted Spraker at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

Spraker was in town as part of Gov. Sarah Palin's $400,000 public information campaign to tell voters about need and effectiveness of predator control. In August, Alaska residents will decide the fate of a ballot measure that would prohibit someone from shooting wolves and grizzly bears on the same day that person used an aircraft.

Similar ballot measures were approved by voters in 1996 and 2000, but the Alaska Legislature changed the law to allow the practice.

The current ballot measure would ban a person from shooting or assisting in shooting "a free-range wolf, wolverine or grizzly bear the same day that the person has been airborne."

It would allow Department of Fish and Game personnel to do the shooting, however, if the commissioner demonstrates a biological emergency and there is "no feasible solution other than airborne control to eliminate the biological emergency."

According to Spraker and the pamplets handed out on Thursday, fish and game data has shown that reducing predators in an area has a positive effect on moose and caribou populations.

In the Upper Susitna, Talkeetna, Nelchina, and Copper basins (GMUs 13A, 13B, 13C and 13E) for instance, an intensive wolf management plan was adopted in 2000 and same-day-airborne taking of wolves began in 2004. In that time, according to Fish and Game, about 71 wolves were taken each year and the moose numbers increased about 2 percent per year with calf numbers increasing 110 percent.

Spraker said three things can decrease moose and caribou populations weather, predators and hunting.

You can't do anything about bad winters he said, but you can decrease hunting pressure and kill predators.

When game populations decline in an area, the first thing to go is hunting opportunities, Spraker said. Predator control programs are only used as a last resort, he said, and to be effective they have to take 60 to 70 percent of the predators.

"If you are going to be effective, humane and efficient, you are going to use aerial shooting," Spraker said Thursday. And the cheapest, most efficient way to use the method is to allow permitted, private citizens to do the shooting.

That assessment didn't sit well with some of the 20 people in attendance on Thursday in Homer, causing some heated exchanges toward the end of the night.

Questions ranged from why voters will have to go to the ballot box for the third time in eight years to why the governor is spending $400,000 to sell the programs to why the Board of Game is made up primarily of hunters when the majority of Alaskans don't hunt.

Spraker said each ballot measure was different and the Legislature's decision to overturn them was, for the most part, upheld by Alaska courts. He said he was given "gas money" to go around the state to give out public information and repeatedly said he wasn't in town to debate the issue or try to sway anyone's opinions. He then said he wouldn't discuss the political leanings of other board members.

The scene on Thursday was tense at times requiring Homer Fish and Game Biologist Thomas McDonough at one point to ask questioners to remain respectful and illustrated the controversial nature of the issue.

The authors of the August ballot measure Joel Bennett and Nick Jans of Alaskans for Wildlife and John Toppenberg of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance have been working to gather support for their side once again.

In a release on the Web site, Bennett called this current public information campaign "a thinly disguised ploy to use public funds to intrude in the democratic process and influence voters."

Jans, co-sponsor of the initiative, said "the timing of this campaign shows its true purpose. Government has no business using public money to create propaganda to oppose the public will. The whole thing smacks of Big Brotherism and is as un-Alaskan as it gets."

Ben Stuart can be reached at